Discovering how to embrace peace

Integral mission and theologyPeacebuilding

We have now talked about hospitality and moral imagination as ways of pursuing peace. Our third approach is one called embrace. This approach comes from the work of the theologian Miroslav Volf, particularly his book Exclusion and Embrace. In his work, Volf describes steps that people can take towards reconciliation using the metaphor of two people embracing.

Photo by Bobby Rodriguezz on Unsplash

In this short video, Ben Chikan, who works in Nigeria, talks about how his team engages with restorative justice, helping people to move towards reconciliation, and explains some of the challenges they face. 

Volf’s image of embrace comes from two biblical ideas. The first is the understanding that God is love and loves, with this love being expressed through the ways that God reaches out to the world: ‘When the Trinity turns toward the world, the Son and the spirit become the two arms of God by which humanity was made and taken into God’s embrace.’ (Exclusion and Embrace, p128)  

The second is the understanding that Jesus, in his death on the Cross, opened his arms to the world inviting them into his embrace and into a restored relationship with him. 

There are four ideas in the theology of embrace, which match with four ‘movements’ that take place in the action of an embrace:

  1. Forgiveness and Repentance (the offer) Opening one’s arms to another person – and waiting…  
  2. Forgiveness and Repentance (the response) The other person responds to the offer of embrace. 
  3. Making space in one’s life for other people Closing the arms, with each party holding, and being held. The embrace must be gentle, not crushing! 
  4. Healing of Memory Opening the arms again, so that each person returns to their lives – changed by the embrace.

In this short clip, Ramy Taleb explains his organisation’s approach to preparing people to embrace each other.

Repentance  

In the first two stages in the box above, repentance is a personal recognition that I have sinned and take responsibility for it. The root of sin is disobedience towards God. This disobedience can be seen easily in those who persecute others and in those who benefit from injustice without challenging it; but the desire for vengeance is also a sin – because we are called to love our enemies, even when they persecute us. If we are able to repent – of any sin – then we are able to live differently in future. 

Forgiveness 

Forgiveness is a willingness to set aside vengeance against enemies and to set aside the just recompense that the injured person deserves from their injurer. However, it does not ignore the fact that injustice has happened. In the Lord’s Prayer we say: ‘forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors’, recognising that debts exist that have to be judged and potentially forgiven. Forgiveness is hard: the most important example of it we have is Jesus’ death on the Cross. At the same time, if people are able to forgive, they recognise that what they have lost cannot be fully restored, and can begin to be healed from the anger and pain of injury.

Rene August on what’s important about forgiveness

Forgiveness marks a moment where hostility breaks down but it does not necessarily lead to restored relationships. This restoration takes another step: making space for another person in one’s life. For a Christian, this means accepting that God is willing to forgive anyone who repents and welcome them into the kingdom – and that if we accept God’s forgiveness we will be called to be willing to live alongside other forgiven sinners. This is really hard, something that we can do with the help of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Volf thinks that it can be made easier by ‘remembering well’. We will talk about this more in the next post, because it is quite complicated.

Hannah Swithinbank
Hannah Swithinbank is Tearfund’s Theology & Network Engagement Manager.